Here it is! Episode 2 of my vlog Book Shops in Japan, aka video travels and the picture book hunt in Japan. (You can watch the first episode of Athens Books in Osaka here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w86Y9VTgQMs&t=5s
Visiting Kyoto was like stepping through time, from the hustle bustle of modern department stores and hotels on the main street of Naramono-cho where we stayed, to the tiny streets and shops where the geisha strolled. One of my favorite parts about traveling to Tokyo was visiting Arashiyama, a small riverside town outside of Kyoto, where my husband and I went to visit the famous Bamboo Forest and relax under the swaying trees. The snacks were delicious and every little shop had the cutest knick knacks to take home. Here we stumbled upon London Books, a charming second-hand book store where I found several picture book gems:
I found SO many great deals at London Books, it was tough to pick a few since we were only traveling with a small carry-on (I ended up shipping most of my books back home anyway). I patiently waited almost three months for my books to arrive, and then I asked my friend Atsuko to help translate them. She has the most adorable one-year old daughter, and an amazing Japanese picture book library for her. I spent a fun afternoon discovering amazing Japanese picture books and discovering the cultural differences between American and Japanese picture books. It’s fascinating, and I’ll share my findings in a later post. Thanks Atsuko, for generously translating the weird picture book, and sharing your books with me!
These are just a few of the picture books I found:
1. はじめてのおつかい (Her First Shopping)
by: Yoriko Tsutsui, illustrated by: Akiko Hayashi
The adorable little girl on the cover immediately caught my eye, and kind of reminded me of myself when I was a little girl, which is something I never saw in picture books when I was little. The story is also an interesting one to see portrayed in a book for children, with the young girl going on a shopping trip by herself! I would be very surprised to see a story like this printed today in the United States, but this was published in 1977 Japan.
2. たなばたプールびらき (ピーマン村の絵本たち)
by: Hirotaka Nakagawa, Yasunari Murakami
I loved the simple, colorful illustration style of these happy swimmers. I especially liked the pages depicting all the goodies swinging on the trees, something I saw everywhere I went while in Japan. Nakagawa and Murakami have worked on several other adorably fun picture books for kids together.
by: Masamoto Nasu, illustrated by: Yoshifumi Hasegawa
My friend Atsuko translated this one, and it was the strangest tale of a doctor deceived by a magical fox. I really like the watercolor techniques used in this picture book, and the rich use of the dark color palette, with rich reds melting into the grays and blacks.
Highlights from Kyoto:
I was awe-struck by all the temples and shrines we saw in Kyoto. We were blessed with sunny days during our stay here, and along with visiting Arashiyama and the bamboo forest, we also took a day to walk around the amazing temples of Kiyomizudera. The spacious temple grounds has a main hall that stands several stories tall, giving visitors the most gorgeous view of the Otowa waterfall and city of Kyoto down below. The surrounding town of the Higashiyama Disctrict was really fun to explore, and we had the most delicious sushi and steak lunch.
Cute cafes and delicious treats!
Kyoto has an abundance of cute shops and cafes to enjoy a sweet treat. I especially enjoyed Snoopy Chaya (with everything Snoopy!), and Qu’il Fait Bon, a creekside cafe with delicious matcha tiramisu and mango tart. Yum! The outside patio had the most picturesque view of the canal, and I could’ve stayed there for hours. And let's not forget the famous cat cafe! (I peeked in from the outside- we all know I'm more of a dog person.)
Fushimi Inari Temple at Night
With so much to see, we even took advantage of sight-seeing at night, which is a wondrous experience in itself! We were surprised by the fantastic light show on the main stairway at Kyoto Station, and took in the sights from above before heading out to Fushimi Inari. We wandered through the famous red bridges at night, with only a handful of other locals enjoying the peace and quiet. It’s a bit eerie exploring the empty park in the dark, and you have to keep an eye out for wild boars, but it’s definitely a sight to see without all the tourists there. I would highly recommend it as a different experience at this famous tourist location.
Nara: Todaiji Temple, Golden Buddha and the scary deer
In Nara, we visited Nara Park including the Todaiji Temple and the famous deer. The temple housed the most massive Buddha statue I've ever seen. Being in it's presence was truly magnificent, and the photos truly don't do it justice. As for the deer, as much as I really wanted to feed them, once I got there, it was more of an anxiety ridden experience for me. The deer, very much accustomed to being fed by locals and tourists alike, are very pushy, and zero in on you as soon as you have their crackers in hand. I wasn't ready for one pushy deer, let alone a growing crowd, so I broke my crackers into little pieces, threw them on the ground, and walked as quickly as I could in the opposite direction. (My one close photo was pre-cracker and I was still nervous about getting as close as I did.)
I truly loved my visit to Kyoto, with its traditional ways, beautiful architecture and expansive, lush parks. I can't wait to return one day. Big thanks to my awesome husband/creative partner/vlog editor for all his hard work on this series. Renaldo, without you, these videos wouldn’t be nearly as awesome, and I would sound 10x more awkward on camera. I can’t wait to share Crayon House in Tokyo with all of you in the next couple of months!
I caught the Japan travel bug a couple of years ago, and in April the timing (and the amazing steal on flights) was finally right - my husband and I spent an amazing two weeks in Japan. We explored the city streets in Tokyo, were awe-struck by the temples in Kyoto, and enjoyed the whirlwind energy of Osaka. We were surrounded by beauty in nature and ate delicious meals every day, but the icing on the cake for me was the hunt for picture books along the way. I knew Japan would be an inspiring trip full of color and beauty, so I’m spicing up my blog with a few videos of the cutest Japanese book shops where I found my picture book gems.
Osaka is a busy, electrifying city, and we stayed right in the heart of the tourist area in Namba. We only spent a couple of days there, but we ate delicious street food the area is known for, tried our luck at the arcade, and explored the city streets. Here’s a little video on Athens Bookstore, a small bookstore we went into while in Osaka. Hope you enjoy it!
If I Were a Book
written by: Jose Jorge Letria | illustrated by: Andre Letria
Here's the little book I bought at Athen's Bookstore. I love the way the simple text goes hand in hand with the graphical illustrations. Since I don't read or speak Japanese, I found this to be a perfect example of how strongly illustrations can speak louder than words.
Without even knowing the title of the book, which I didn't at the time I bought it, I found the illustrations created a story all their own- we can imagine ourselves swimming through the ocean, flying high above the bustling city or scaling the tallest mountain in the adventures we take while reading a book.
I found the English translated version of If I Were a Book on Amazon, providing snippets of the actual text written by Letria:
"If I were a book, I'd be full of new horizons"
"If I were a book, I would not want to know at the beginning how my story ends"
Didn't you already get a sense of these words just by looking at the illustrations? The power of art and words, even art without words, experienced inside a picture book is exactly why I love them so much.
Highlights from our short but delicious stay in Osaka.
Our stay in Osaka was a rainy one, but the days were perfect to get lost among the tall buildings, surrounded by the endless posters calling our name to try one savory treat after another.
Delicious street food and cute desserts everywhere!
Below: Earl grey rye pancakes topped with fruit and ice-cream, adorable and yummy roasted green tea latte, okonomiyaki (savory pancakes filled with grilled octopus) takoyaki (flavorful octopus balls topped with fish flakes on a stick) and a warm an pan with vanilla ice-cream inside. For dinner, we had the crispiest, tastiest salt and pepper chicken wings I've ever had in my entire life. Osaka is food and dessert heaven.
My husband and I are not gamblers, but in Japan, there were arcades with bright lights and playful music everywhere. I just had to include these photos of the adorable prizes teasing us and the Miyazaki game that lured me in. Only 1000 yen later ($10) and my husband won me the "ultimate prize"!
Thanks for watching my first ever video blog! Coming soon: Part 2 of my picture book hunt in Japan featuring an adorable little shop in Kyoto!
Friends, for those of you reading this, thank you for taking the time, and for your continued support on my kidlit journey. This is a love letter to 2017, a year that's been so good to my creative soul. And to you friends, who ask me about Little Bat and how the progress is going, I am so grateful for your thoughts and wishes of good luck. It means so much to me. Love you guys!
You've been so good to me. On days like today, when my body is achy, my nose is stuffy and all I want is to disappear under a blanket, I think back on the amazing opportunities I've had this past year, sip my tea and just feel grateful. On evenings after a long day at work and a long commute in traffic, when all I want to do is veg out ,and binge on Terrace House or Broad City, I remind myself that Little Bat has been waiting for me all day, just to get a few more of his expressions drawn out (sometimes I give into TV anyway, because nobody's perfect and a girl needs a mental break now and then).
There's no better time than now, while my body recovers from an annoying cold, to take a minute and catch up on my blog before the end of the year. Let's see... I took my first online illustration course with the Children's Book Academy and it was so much fun! The timing was perfect, as I'm still smack in the middle of illustrating “Wake Up, Little Bat!” The structure of the class, the exercises for each week and the lessons and interviews were just what I needed to keep the inspiration train going. I'm telling you, illustrating can be a lonely pass-time, so it was really fun to see other illustration styles and other projects the very talented students were up to. I submitted to the Golden Ticket contest (didn't win this time, but you can't win 'em all!), and it pushed me to think about color (yay!) for Little Bat.
I sent in my final sketches for “Wake Up, Little Bat!” to my editor and publisher! Thats right folks, my entire book is all sketched out! And while there are still changes to be made, I feel ECSTATIC to say I can check this milestone off on my illustrating path. What an amazing feeling!
I also took some extra time to connect to inspiration and fill my creative cup. December was jam-packed with events and I had to take advantage of meeting the very delightful Oliver Jeffers and the positively energetic Cathy Heller. If you ever feel yourself in a slump, get out there and look for events with people who do what you want to be doing. Just feeling the energy of being out at an event will give you the refresher you're looking for. (It didn't hurt to bring along a couple of my closest gal pals for a ladies night of creativity too!) If you're on your own creative path, do yourself a HUGE favor and listen to the Don't Keep Your Day Job podcast on iTunes. Cathy Heller is an amazing force of motivation every one of us creative folks need in our lives. I could do an entire blog post on all the episodes she's hosted alone... (hmm.. now that's an idea.. inspiring podcasts and audiobooks!)
Last week, I reconnected with my book buddy, Emily, a fellow kidlit writer and lover of picture books to catch up on her writing journey as well. So fun and so sweet to chat with someone who loves children's books as much as I do! And did I mention, I was a part of an AMAZINGLY fun webinar through the Children's Book Academy, filled with published writers and illustrators ? Wow, what an honor to be a part of this talented bunch. I learned so much and am so excited to be a part of this kidlit community. (For anyone interested, the live webinar was recorded and is available here bit.ly/AnAwesomeGIFT )
And lastly, this has nothing to do with my writing journey, but I hosted our first ever family fiesta at our house, and it was so full of love and warm fuzzies, I had to include it here too. December, you have been so fun and inspiring, and it's not even Christmas yet....wooooohoo!
You've been an amazing pal, 2017, but I can't wait for what my new friend, 2018, has in store for me!
Staying inspired through the holidays and into the new year!
It’s September and back-to-school time is here! I am also joining the kiddos and students of all ages going back to school as I start the very exciting Children’s Book Academy Craft and Business of Illustrating Children's Books course on Monday (www.childrensbookacademy.com). I’ve always loved learning and reading books of almost all kinds (aka was a nerd in school), but this new-found passion of mine has ignited a whole new spark of inspiration to learn as much as I can about the kidlit world.
The problem is, as an adult trying to navigate this journey of writing and illustrating my very first picture book, I find myself scrambling to stay organized. Sure, I add all the events to the calendar on my laptop and use the notes app on my phone to keep my thoughts organized, but I still miss things. (I can’t be the only person out there who still needs a calendar on her fridge to get a bird’s eye view of what’s happening that month, can I?) Even with all this pocket-size technology, to be honest, my organizational skills can be somewhat non-existent at times. (I’m trying really hard not to fall into the artist’s stereotype here, but that could possibly be to blame). However, I refuse to fall into my old disorganized ways, and was determined to find something better.
This time, my phone came to the rescue! A surprisingly easy and very practical solution scrolled right through my Instagram feed: a friend’s post about her planners, organizers and colored pens. Of course, so genius! (Are you kidding me with these amazing photos? Just looking at them makes me want to curl up with some tea and organize the heck out of my life. Thanks @runningmona13, you’re a lifesaver!). Why didn’t I think back to my own school days and love for hard-covered planners and brand-new highlighters? Could the answer really be as simple as going old school and using the tried and true pen and paper?
Luckily, with Amazon Prime, I was only a few clicks and two days of waiting away from receiving the little notebook with hopes that it will keep me sane while I juggle an illustration course, my full-time job and life in general. I went with the Simple Elephant and fine line drawing pens from Sipa. This is not an official endorsement, but simply my own personal and quickly researched choice for the following reasons:
I’m really looking forward to taking this Illustration course head-on, adding important class notes and homework dates to my paper calendar, and using my colored pens to stay organized. Added bonus: plenty of space for colorful sketches in the margins just like my doodles (I mean incredibly detailed and studious notes) back in high school. ;) Do you have a favorite planner or go to tips to stay organized? Please share with me so I can keep it up and stay motivated while I’m ahead!
Stay tuned for an update on “Wake Up, Little Bat!” and my experience with my first ever illustration course online, hopefully a very neatly organized one, thanks to my Simple Elephant!
Starting on this writing journey has motivated me to connect with others. Not only the kids I want to share Little Bat with, but those on their own creative path, no matter what it is. And with people picking up the pieces of their lives after the hurricane devastation in Houston and Florida, there's been a heightened awareness for helping those in need around us. So this past week, I focused my creative efforts on two things:
1. volunteering for Reading to Kids and connecting with kids in my local community
2. contributing an illustration for an amazing anthology through Clear Fork Publishing, the company publishing Little Bat next year, with all proceeds going to the Salvation Army for the victims of Hurricane Harvey in Houston.
Its been a very rewarding and inspiring past few days. Last Saturday, I got back in touch with the kid inside and volunteered for Reading to Kids, a non-profit organization promoting the love of reading to elementary school kids in Los Angeles. It's been a long while since I’ve joined in, but with my new kidlit journey, I thought I should work on my reading aloud skills. Engaging young kids in a picture book and grabbing and keeping their attention really is a skill, and mine were pretty rusty. But once I got back into it, it was easy as pie. Who wouldn't have fun reading a picture book to kids and seeing what they thought of the funny little fish characters inside?
I thought back to my last volunteering experience, when I was unexpectedly re-assigned to reading to the older fifth graders, ones who were disinterested and ready for the summer to begin (which could be the cause of my long hiatus, but can you really blame kids for wanting to just be out for summer break already?) This time was completely different. I signed up early to ensure I would get my chosen age group, the little kindergarteners. There were only three of them, and since the school year has just begun, they were a bit shy at first. We read The Pout Pout Fish Goes to School by Deborah Diesen. As the reading went on, the kids opened up, with a few entertaining moments of distraction. By the end of the craft session, the kids were drawing, cutting and letting their imagination run wild on the page. It was so fun to see the creativity these kids had in them. I will definitely be returning next month for the October special and my favorite holiday, Halloween! I’ve even gone against my usual procrastinating ways and signed up already to read to the younger kids again. :) I'll be volunteering as a skunk next month at Gratts Elementary School if you want to join me!
Still warm from the fuzzies of reading to the little kiddos, the following week was filled with late nights of finishing my illustration for the Hug for the World anthology from Clear Fork Publishing. I'm so proud to be part of a publishing company with such a big heart and love for its community. As a Texas-based publishing house, the publisher and owner, Callie Metler Smith, rallied the authors and illustrators in an effort to bring poems, stories, and art into a book to raise money for the people affected by Hurricane Harvey in Houston. The book comes out October 10 and you can pre-order it here:
Sometimes all it takes is giving a little good to the people around us who need it to spark inspiration and love. Have you been inspired to volunteer lately? Share it here and let's keep that spark going!
The SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s) LA Conference was held early July, and I had no idea what I was getting into, in the best way possible. When I started on the path into the kidlit world, there was a list of things I had to do to get the best start. One of the most important was joining SCBWI to immerse myself in the children’s book world. Luckily, I dipped my toe in this world when I attended the regional meet-up earlier this year because otherwise I would’ve been completely overwhelmed by the event that was the huge L.A. conference.
The weekend was packed with inspirational keynote speakers, informative break-out talks by authors, agents and editors in the industry, and brunch with children’s writer and legend Judy Blume! The days were filled with so much inspiration, I hardly knew what to do with myself. I was constantly torn between attending one talk over the other at the same time, both sounding equally intriguing. But I think the best part of all was meeting all the wonderful people I had connected with online through my children’s book writing class. I spent my days learning from my instructor and "fairy godmother", Dr. Mira Reisberg, and eagerly sitting in on talks and sharing ideas with my book pals Emily, Jodi and Bryan. It was so surreal to meet my book friends in person after sharing my stories and ideas with them for months online. I found my tribe!
The Silver Linings social on Saturday night was really something to experience, with writers and artists dancing, mingling enjoying the appetizers and snacks galore. The drinks flowed and the ice-cream sundaes called my name. I even spotted my kidlit hero, author and illustrator Jon Klassen (but did not give in to my fan impulses this time- next time Jon Klassen, next time). This was kidlit heaven!
Of all the speakers who shared their wisdom and experiences with us (and all of them were so amazing), there were two in particular that really struck a chord with me. Opening keynote speaker Vanessa Brantley Newton and break-out session speaker Leuyen Pham. Newton spoke with an emotion that connected with the audience. Her story of perseverance and unrelenting will was so touching and inspiring to hear. And I hope her story about the goat falling into the well and the words of, “Shake it off and pack it under” will resonate with me when I’m struggling to push through on my creative journey.
Pham is a magical unicorn all her own. She’s illustrated an incredible number of books, and hearing her process absolutely blew my mind. How does she illustrate more than one book at a time and maintain her sanity while raising her young children? This woman is an illustrating machine! Regardless, it was reassuring to hear her speak about her experiences of illustrating, searching for inspiration, and realizing that even though she’s extremely talented, she’s also very, very hard-working. I am a big fan, Leuyen!
When I first told my husband I would be attending the SCBWI conference, he was so supportive, and in Renaldo fashion, could probably see how taken I would be, even more so than I did at the time. I’ve caught the kidlit bug and it’s not letting me go! I came home from each full day at the conference, lit up with energy and newly inspired, though exhausted. I hope I remember this feeling. It was incredible to live in a kidlit bubble for one fulfilling weekend. And even though this event has come and gone, I’ll return to the memories again and again to keep me going on this kidlit journey. There is always next year, and perhaps the Winter Conference in New York to look forward to! My creative cup is now full.
Happy Summer, everyone! I would've never guessed when I wrote my last blog post that even more exciting opportunities would arise. I am now officially a blogger, a Blogateer to be exact! Amazing things happen when you follow your bliss, and it all started with one picture book class with The Children's Book Academy. I would not be here without the generous spirit that is Dr. Mira Reisburg. She surprised me with the incredible opportunity of writing for her website's blog, what an honor!
Writing and following my passion for it really has opened so many doors in just a few short months. And now it looks like all those extra hours I'm putting in getting lost in the children's section of the library and book stores is sparking inspiration two-fold: exposing me to the incredibly fun world of children's literature and giving me the resources to write on the fourth Wednesday of every month for the Blogateers. I think I might already have all the books I want to review for the rest of the year, and it's only June!
It's an understatement to say there are books to fill multiple lifetimes spent in the aisles of the children's books section. My first blog post was on Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color by Julia Denos (who I even connected with on Twitter, thanks to Mira of course... wow!) . There is just an abundance, but these are my favorites for June:
The Storm Whale in Winter
by: Benji Davies
Big Wolf and Little Wolf: The Little Leaf that Wouldn't Fall
by: Nadine Brun-Cosme and Olivier Tallec
Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood
by: F. Isabel Compoy, Theresa Howell, Illustrated by: Rafael Lopez
Nana in the City
by: Lauren Castillo
Monster and Son
by: David LaRochelle, Illustrated by: Joey Chou
I feel so blessed to be learning and exploring on this journey. And the summer has only just begun! Next adventure: my first SCBWI summer conference in July!
Wow, it's been a whirlwind of a Spring! And what a great few months for writing inspiration! After I completed The Children's Book Academy picture book writing class, I dove right in and applied for their Andrea Pinkney Scholarship for the Middle Grade Mastery class. This scholarship aimed to give opportunities for diverse authors to get their stories out there, and guess what? I won a half-scholarship to the Middle Grade writing class!! Woooo! What a great start to a writing class that would change my writing journey. I went through 4 weeks of learning how to write intriguing characters and a story that would grab the reader from the first page. It's been an incredible journey learning from Dr. Mira Reisberg and Hillary Homzie, published middle grade author of several books including The Queen of Likes.
April was the month for amazing book events and author signings. I stumbled upon Jon Klassen's author appearance at my local gift shop in Atwater Village. It was such a wonder to watch him read to a group of rambunctious toddlers and give a little illustration demo. He even graciously signed my favorite picture book of his, and gave me advice to publishing picture books.
I finally attended the Los Angeles Times Festival of books, where I was enthralled by the Middle Grade book talk featuring authors Danielle Davis, Steven B. Frank, Erin Estrada Kelly, and A.S. King. What an incredible panel of inspiring authors! I bought three of the middle grade novels, collected more author autographs, and snuck in a few insider questions when meeting the authors.
And to round out my collection of author autographs for the season, I stopped by Leanna Lin's Wonderlands' author event with Genevieve Santos!! What a sweet and down to earth soul. I talked illustration and writing with her, got a fun sketch and author signature in her newly published chapter book and bought a wonderful, custom drawing of my husband and I for our upcoming Paper wedding anniversary!
Whew! I've really hit the ground running with this writing thing, and I can't wait to see what wonderful, and inspiring experiences summer will bring!
I knew 2017 would be THE year for creativity. To be honest, there hasn't been a year where there hasn't been creativity or some kind of art in my life. Whether I'm sketching my thoughts on a random piece of paper, sharing some late-night doodles on Instagram, or participating in the local art show, there's is no way I could go a whole year without creating something. But this would be THE year for it- I could feel it, and I just had to jump at looking for a way to make this something happen.
I had a children's story jumbling around in my head for more time that I'd like to admit, but never got it past several preliminary sketches. But late last year, I decided 2017 would be the year that I would make my character come to life. I really wanted to dive in and write the story out well, so after a long and windy journey down the rabbit hole of the internet, I found the Children's Book Academy online. (www.childrensbookacademy.com) There were so many courses offered, and the instructor and creator, Dr. Mira Reisberg, was not only the most qualified and knowledgeable person to take my first leap into children's book writing (she's had many years of experience in children's literature and worked in pretty much all aspects of the field possible), but her photo also made her seem like a very warm, and likable person. I decided to take a chance and sign up for The Craft and Business of Writing Children's Picture Books, which started in a few short weeks!
I could not be happier with my decision. It was a six week class, which flew by so fast, and I missed being a part of it as soon as it was over. There was so much material to learn about the children's literature world and how to write picture books, it really was the best way to really dive in to what I wanted to achieve. Mira Reisberg was so kind and generous with her time, and really cared about her students and what we were learning in her class. She, along with Kelly Delaney (an editor at Random House), and Bryan Patrick Avery (who was also a magician on the side!), really made the class enjoyable and engaging. One of the best things I've taken away from this class is the online community of children's book authors and illustrators who also took the course, and the wonderful connections I've made (including a book pen pal in San Francisco who I've continued to share book ideas with!) . In addition, the big bonus of the course is the Golden Ticket- an opportunity to submit directly to an agent or editor at a publishing house, and bypass the slush pile. So exciting!!
I'm so thrilled to say that this class has sparked my passion towards writing for children. There's not a day that goes by without a new idea swirling around for a possible picture book or character illustration. I have learned so much in the short six weeks, and cannot wait to continue to learn more about the kidlit world and work towards getting my stories published. This class has not only been a great educational resource, but also a very inspiring beginning for my passion of writing and illustrating for children.
Here you'll find...
a little about me, thoughts on my writing journey, hopefully a spark of inspiration. Enjoy!